International Women's Day (IWD) is still a topic that can spark division. However, that very fact necessitates its existence.
November 19th. That is international men's day. Yet there will be far less trumpet and ceremony over that day - and that’s the point. Much less is said about it, because much less needs to be said. The reason IWD is still necessary, and the reason it garners so much attention, is because it serves to highlight the barriers that women still face, in business and in the workplace.
The concept that some people struggle with, and the reason the topic of IWD can so often be met with derision, is that these barriers are not overt. No one sits down in a room and says ‘women will be paid x and men paid y’. Glass ceilings are not crafted with foresight and preparation - they exist in the unspoken, the unplanned - the ‘it just is’.
It exists in the after-work drinks that a mother can’t make. It exists in the football or the rounds of golf. It exists in the networks and relationships that form in the rooms we can’t be in - because we just don’t find ourselves there.
This isn’t something new - these divides in business and the workplace have existed ever since we first stepped out of the home space and into the office. Yes, it’s better than it was, but the legacy of those times still colours the carpet we walk on.
So how do we overcome these barriers? Well as we said, it is getting better as more women-led businesses come to the fore. 150,000 enterprises were started by women in 2022 - more than double in 2018 - just four years earlier. Yet still, women-led businesses only account for one-fifth of all businesses in the UK.
I run the Perch Eco Business Centre in Bicester, and we have many female founders working in our offices and coworking space.
These are not the Karren Brady or Deborah Meaden ‘I negotiate 12 million dollar deals over breakfast’ characters we see on our TV screens, or in films that focus on women in business. They are the mums of the four-year-old who has to try and juggle client meetings in between taking their child to school later - because an admin error lost their morning childcare slot.
They are the woman in her early thirties who struggles with really bad period pains, who once a month has to take more paracetamol than is sensible just to get through the day, let alone deal with a difficult client or negotiate with HMRC.
It’s the woman who has to go back to work three months after giving birth and manage the myriad of hormones and guilt for not being on hand with her child 24/7 because if she’s not working - then her business isn’t running.
That is how we overcome these barriers - we promote the role models that people can relate to, and we normalise it all. We normalise the time frames people can work, we normalise the period pains and the postnatal challenges. The small business owners who operate within those barriers, the managers and the mums who make it work - and the new girls fresh into the workplace with the potential to become the next leaders.
We showcase them so other women can see that you don’t have to be a stereotype or a caricature to succeed - you just have to know that the way you work is ok, and that success isn’t defined by past measurements.
That’s something we all have to subscribe to - to recognise that these barriers exist, and make allowances and changes so that opportunity is truly equal. It’s not about giving everyone the same platform - it’s about making sure the platform gives everyone the same view - whether you’re four foot or six.
What is the goal of IWD? To be no longer needed. To be a silly day that we remember as being part of times gone by. That’s the goal - not to pull people down, but to bring others up.